for another snow scramble in
the Teanaway area. Janet joined me for a trip up West Esmerelda Peak. I
have done this scramble on dirt in summer and on snow in spring. Snow
is much easier. It does present some additional challenges however. Up
high there was more snow than I have seen before. We met in Bellevue at
6:45 and headed east. Not much traffic as we sailed by Cle Elum then
north on Highway 970 and up the Teanaway Valley. The road is still not
bare to the end with snow the last half mile. Our destination, DeRoux
campground, is about 1 1/2 miles before that. One other car at the
trailhead and another arrived as we were set to leave. That person told
us about a Mountaineer scramble trip up Esmerelda the day before. We
should have tracks to follow in the snow. At 9:05 we were on our way.
We made it as far as the bridge over the NF Teanaway River when I had
to go back to the trailhead. 4/10th of a mile later we were again on
our way. It was shorts weather and expected to be warm and sunny later
on. Lots of glacier lilies starting in the parking lot. Many trillium
also in bloom. Within half a mile there were some snow patches. More
snow as we neared the junction with the DeRoux Spur trail. I managed to
get onto the wrong trail here. A dozen or more visits and I still
messed up in the snow. The GPS quickly showed the error of my ways and
we slogged cross country a short way back to the trail. Lots of water
on the trail in places and quite a few trees down starting 150' out of
the parking lot. We must have climbed over or around a dozen downed
trees, some impressively large.
There were still large dirt sections as the route finally began to gain
elevation. I have never used a GPS on this trail before and it makes
route finding much easier when the trail is under snow. The trail heads
north to an open area above the creek. A number of wildflowers in bloom
here. Grass widows, violets, glacier lilies, spring beauty among
others. With all the snow this was more an early spring flower hike
down low and only a cover of white up higher. There were tracks but
less than I was expecting with a big Mountaineer group the day before.
After the route was completely snow covered (about 4300') we found and
lost the tracks a number of times. On my previous climb of Esmerelda in
early June 2008 we had a tough time near the upper crossing of DeRoux
Creek. The route winds around to the north side of the steep ridge just
before the crossing. The narrow trail was completely covered with snow.
We had to work our way around using brush for hand holds with rotten
snow breaking away as we kicked steps. The exposure here may be fatal
as you would plummet down to the creek far below. On a trip the year
before the other members of the trip had gone straight up and over the
ridge we traversed around. I had not tried it but it is a viable option.
As we neared that dicey spot the previous boot steps headed straight
uphill. We decided to follow them up and over rather than
checking out the conditions of the traverse. Ice axes came out and we
had already put on microspikes. As we climbed steeply the snow became
thinner. I left the snow before the other boot prints and climbed up
dirt to the ridge top. This was the steepest snow Janet had climbed on
her new knees and though she was a little uncomfortable she followed me
on up. The way down the other side was just as steep but the snow on
the forested northwest side was much deeper. We were able to safely
work our way down to the creek.
A very steep snow slope separated us from the usual trail crossing.
Rather than heading back that way we followed alongside the creek
looking for a good log or fording place. No logs but a good ford was
found. The far bank was dirt in one place instead of the mostly
vertical snowbank. To keep boots dry we crossed barefoot. The water was
at least 34 degrees. Boots went back on and we immediately spotted
another hiker. It was the guy who arrived as we were getting started.
He took the low traverse around the ridge and crossed the
on a log.
We headed a little farther up the creek and then headed straight
uphill. We climbed right in the middle of the summer trail switchbacks.
We came out right at the boulder field above the trail. It was already
12:30 and time for lunch. It was getting very warm on the snow. The
other guy kept going setting a track up to the basin just above us. We
soon caught up. He was done for the day. We continued on up. The route
gets quite steep but the footing was good. Open slope gave way to
weaving between spaced trees and finally we reached the ridge to our
right and followed it. Another basin led to another climb.
We angled to the right and climbed the final slope to the summits. We
picked up steps and a glissade track on the final climb. The hot
afternoon sun just about did me in. Some clouds blew in and helped a
lot. Near the top we saw another climber traversing above us. He
reached the summit first. There was a steady cold wind blowing over the
summit. It felt pretty good. Though we could now see more clouds to the
north most peaks were in the clear. Fortune was right across to the
north and the Stuart Range looked as good as ever. It was 2:30 when we
summited. We met Dennis on top. He took a direct route from just after
the first bridge crossing. We took the requisite photos and enjoyed the
views. By 3:00 pm we headed down.
We climbed down to the top of the glissade track. Hard snow with a few
inches of afternoon warmed slush on top. I went first. It was faster
than I thought it would be. My ice axe was 2/3rds buried to check my
speed. Far down the track headed towards a tree. Not a good idea. I
self arrested with plenty of space left. Seeing this Janet chose to
plunge step down. From the tree we had another good glissade with a
gentle run out. We traversed right through trees back to the upper
basin. Not steep but we managed a short glissade. Back on the ridge we
descended here rather than weave through the trees on the steep slope.
Farther down I traversed back onto the open slope for the best glissade
of the day. Fast with a flat area at the bottom.
That is where we left the other hiker after lunch. The rest of the way
down to the creek was a mix of plunge stepping and glissading. One more
cold creek crossing and an easier climb back to the ridge top. The soft
thin snow was a pain to downclimb but soon enough we were back on
gentle terrain. The rest of the way was just a snow and then dirt slog.
At 6:30 we arrived at the lot to find one camper and not hikers. On the
drive home it rained on and off most of the way. That made our sunny
day all that much sweeter. My two most recent visits to Esmerelda were
totally in clouds. This day at least I had some views. All in all, a
great day for a snow scramble.
Click on thumbnails to get
Blooming Glacier Lilies
Creek Crossing Time
Looking Towards Summit
Almost On Top
The Stuart Range
Harding & The Cradle
Last Creek Ford
Off Of The Snow
Spring Beauty Cluster